Standup Comedian: An interview with Demetri Martin
It’s been six years since Demetri Martin released his last special Demetri Martin. Person. on Comedy Central. During that time he’s starred in his own TV show, Important Things with Demetri Martin, starred in a handful of films, and a published book. But now he’s back where his roots were sown with the release of his new stand-up comedy special, Demetri Martin. Standup Comedian.
The special premieres on Saturday September 29th at 10pm and will be released on CD and DVD a few days later on October 2nd. We had the opportunity to talk with Demetri about all of this and also how he’s not really a fan of dick jokes.
How does this special differ from your last special? Have you learned anything new?
I simplified this one. I pared it down. I don’t have any friends coming out on stage with me. With the last one too, I did a tour. I did about a 30-city tour leading up to it so I had a good idea of what I was doing when I got in there this time. Because I don’t play keyboard in it or I don’t have any real set pieces like I did, it was easier to just focus on the material and developing it. So it’s mostly just one-liners and I show some drawings and I play guitar a little bit but I called it Standup Comedian because it was just me getting back to what I started with which was just telling jokes. I mean, that’s what I do in all the specials but it was just less of a production this time. I made it simpler.
Was it difficult to try to simplify and get rid of the extra things?
No, it was especially easier. With all those extra things. it’s all just different ways of presenting one liners really and I always took those other things as a way to challenge myself and a way to diversify the presentation. Play the piano and the harmonica, and control a slideshow with my foot like I did in Person. but nobody cares. But for me I thought, “cool, I pulled it off. I got to do it.” Years later I’m like, “you know what, I don’t really have anything to prove to myself that way right now.” What I want to do is just put my new jokes out there and do a tour and develop the jokes and come up with different endings and tags and variations and then just go shoot the special.
So it’s actually easier. When I started, all I did was go to clubs and do one-liners and stand there with a microphone and just tell the jokes. When I got to go perform in some of the alternative rooms I had a chance to try some different stuff, to experiment. That led me to drawings and playing music and all that kind of stuff. But at the core of all of it, it’s the most old fashioned way of doing comedy which is telling somebody a joke. You’re either telling somebody a joke or you’re telling them a story essentially. So, I’m more of a joke teller.
That’s what I pretty much did. The album comes out the same time as the DVD, it’s a lot of the same material as the special. But it’s not all the same. There are no drawings on the album. It’s just me in a comedy club standing there telling jokes. And at the end I play a little guitar like I do in the special. But it’s simpler. In a way it’s like a relief. I’m not doing as much extra stuff.
Was there any reason for the fact that you recorded the CD ad DVD in different club?
I just thought it would be cool to have two different recordings of it. If someone’s interested, they can check out both of them and say, “alright, cool, that’s what stand-up sounds like in a small room like in a club. And this is what it looks like in a big theater.” As opposed to just releasing a recording of the theater show. I like the idea that I have two different things. Because it’s not the exact same show, I do different jokes. I thought it’d be cool to have them in two very different venues.
Watching your shows and seeing your specials, you remind me a lot of Andy Kaufman. I’m sure you get that a lot. Was there ever a big challenge getting material like that through?
I get that sometimes, yeah. I like Andy Kaufman, he was a great comic. When I started in the comedy clubs in New York I just wanted so badly to perform in the clubs. A couple of them just told me, “you’re too low energy and cerebral so we can’t use you.” Or it’s too weird or whatever. I’m not as experimental or artistic as Andy Kaufman and he was doing what he did back in the 70’s and early 80’s. At the time I started doing stand-up, a lot of that stuff had been done. People had deconstructed and deconstructed the deconstruction of stand-up already. If you think of Kaufman and Steve Martin and Albert Brooks, that was the golden era of stand-up of guys experimenting and trying different things with the form. I’m such a later generation. I’m not doing anything too “out there” or that weird, but because it’s a low-key presentation that’s a harder sell to the clubs. Basically they’d say, “We need high energy acts.” They want someone who’s got high energy and is a crowd pleaser. I just have my style and it’s kind of laid back and I’m trying some different things.
But I’m lucky. I get to go around and audiences show up. I usually get to go to a theater and not a comedy club and people will come and they know what they’re coming to see. I get to do a bunch of new material and I don’t have to worry about my audience getting a two drink minimum, or following a guy who does 40 dick jokes. I get to have my own vibe. But early on it was just hard to get stage time and it was a challenge to get my stuff out there. But it’s such a big country that you can find your audience. If you get the stuff out there and enough of it out there, it seems like you can find an audience no matter how specific your thing is.
What was the experience like for you going from stand-up into TV and film?
It’s cool. My original goal was just to do stand-up but then I became interested in films – writing a film, shooting one someday, and getting to act in them. I haven’t gotten a ton of them, but when I started to get parts here and there it was exciting because they’re a great opportunity. It’s really different than doing stand-up and getting to work with people like Ang Lee and Steven Soderbergh, that’s a thrill because they’re so good at what they do, it is really getting an education. To get to be on a set like that and see the choices they’re making to take direction and be like “wow, this is great. This is such a great opportunity.” I want to make my own films and I’m trying to learn how to do that and develop my style and my voice in that realm. In stand-up I’ve had a good number of years in front of a lot of audiences so I’ve learned more there because I’ve had more access to it, I’m not as far along yet in film but I’m hoping to do more.
Is there anything on the horizon that you can talk about?
I did a part in an independent movie and hopefully it will go to Sundance. I think they’re trying to decide now I guess… the Sundance people. But Lake Bell, who’s a friend of mine directed the movie. She wrote it, stars in it and directs it. I have a part in that movie and I think it will be a good film. I haven’t seen it but I’m hoping it will be good. I’m also writing a movie that I’m trying to get financing for. If I do then maybe I’ll get to direct that next year.
You create a ton of drawings. What makes them so important to you?
I think with drawings and with jokes, I like the idea of boiling something down to just a few simple elements. So I like drawings that don’t require that many lines to communicate an idea. I’ve been developing this book that I’m working on right now. The book will come out in the Spring, I think on March 19th, it’s called Point Your Face At This. And it’s mostly drawings. I have about 200 line drawings in it and some other little text bits and jokes. But the point of that book is really to publish a bunch of drawings that I’ve had in my notebook and that I’ve come up with for the book. But none of them are too elaborate. Each one is pretty simple but hopefully it communicates some sort of an interesting idea with just a few lines.
Can you tell us anything more about the special?
I haven’t had a special out in about 6 years so these are a lot of my favorite jokes I’ve been doing the last couple of years and a bunch of new ones I wrote for the special. I’m proud of it. I think there’s a lot in there. And it has nothing to do with politics. So I have a nice break from the onslaught this [Presidential] campaign seem to be… we’re just so far into it and it’s not even November yet, it seems like, “wow, they’ve been campaigning for a long time.” A lot of people I’m getting a little tired of hearing about it every single day. So my stuff is kind of escapist and it’s not topical by design. I think it’s worth checking out.
We hear you’re selling a package of a bunch of really cool stuff on your website.
Yeah, we had this idea to do a bundle of stuff and Comedy Central was into it. I do think it ends up being a good deal because my album, the DVD that has some extras on it that aren’t in the televised special, I did a drawing so it will come as a print and my book. Or maybe it’s a t-shirt. I can’t remember everything that’s in there. But we did a t-shirt that’s based on the album cover I designed for the CD and the DVD I made with construction paper. It looks really cool on a shirt so it’s a nice bundle… for about 40 bucks or something. Hopefully that will get people interested and buying a bunch of stuff.
Are you touring anytime soon?
I’m just doing some dates here and there. I think my next show is in Phoenix. But it’s just a date here and there. I’m building up a new hour, not that I put all this stuff on TV. I’m back to the drawing board coming up with new jokes. But yeah, it’s coming along.
Catch the TV premiere of Demetri Martin. Standup Comedian. on Saturday September 29th at 10pm on Comedy Central and pick up the DVD and CD on October 2nd. You can also find out more about his album bundles at www.demetrimartin.com or follow him on Twitter @DemetriMartin.